Through a partnership with New Hampshire investors, Softeq has expanded its venture studio out of state. Image via hrknsscowork.com

A Houston tech services company has announced fresh funding and a new location for its venture studio focused on growing startups.

Softeq Development Corp. announced an additional commitment of $5 million to the Softeq Venture Fund. With the investment, Softeq has a new partnership that will work toward creating a satellite venture studio in New Hampshire with local investors. Launch New Hampshire will leverage the Softeq Venture Studio platform to back qualified startups from within and outside New Hampshire, according to a news release from Softeq.

“It’s a great time to invest in startup companies, and we saw an opportunity to bridge the gap between the growing innovation community here in Houston and the untapped investment community in New Hampshire,” says Christopher A. Howard, founder and CEO of Softeq, in the release. “We’re excited about this partnership because it provides the Softeq Venture Studio with a source of high-quality startups while also fostering the innovation ecosystem in New Hampshire and New England.”

The Softeq Venture Studio announced its inaugural cohort last year, launching to act as an investor and accelerator program that provides mentors, resources, and workspaces for promising tech startups. This is the first expansion of the program and the latest investment into the Softeq Venture Fund, which has raised over $25 million of its $40 million goal.

Michael and Jamie Simchik, New Hampshire real estate developers, and Terry Anderton, an experienced technology entrepreneur, are the founders of Launch NH. The satellite cohort will work out of HRKNSScowork in Concord, New Hampshire.

“New Hampshire has been slow to adopt an innovation ecosystem, but with nearby Boston enjoying continued startup successes, we have the unique opportunity to leverage what is happening in Massachusetts, as well as in Vermont and Maine,” says Simchik, founder and CEO of HRKNSScowork. “By working with Softeq, we want to help build the innovation community statewide and drive broad-based startup activity in the region, similar to what Softeq has accomplished in its Houston headquarters.”

Anderton founded Wagz, which was recently acquired, an early participant in the Softeq accelerator program. Through his experience with Softeq, the company says he wanted to help bring the program other startups in the region.

The Softeq Venture Studio has made investments into 27 startups from across the globe since it launched in 2021. Over the next three years, per the release, Softeq intends to invest in 40 companies each year, including at least 12 via Launch NH.

The Softeq Venture Studio has named 14 startups — two from Houston — to its third cohort. Photo via Getty Images

Houston tech company's venture studio names new partner and cohort

developing tech

A Houston-based tech company has named a new limited partner and 14 new startups to its venture arm.

Softeq Development Corporation announced its third group of early-stage startups to join the Softeq Venture Studio, which is geared at helping its resident startups quickly develop their technology and build their businesses. With 14 startups, the summer 2022 cohort is the largest yet and brings the total portfolio to 27 companies. Additionally, the $40 million Softeq Venture Fund welcomed Royal Eagle Capital Partners, a Houston-based investment firm, as a limited partner with its $3 million commitment.

“We are thrilled to see how much the Softeq Venture Studio has grown since 2021,” says Christopher A. Howard, founder and CEO of Softeq, in a news release. “We’re also pleased to welcome Royal Eagle Capital Partners as an investment partner in our Venture Fund, which allowed us to achieve more than 50 percent of our funding goal in just five months. We look forward to building on this partnership and growing Softeq in North America, Latin America, and beyond.”

Softeq is also celebrating a recent expansion into Latin America and staffing the new regional office with 30 engineers. The company has plans to grow to 150 employees in the region over the next year.

“The Softeq Venture Fund presents a unique opportunity to diversify our holdings within the alternative investments space. The concept of risk mitigation in venture investments resonates with investment firms globally, and we are excited to be working with Softeq and the amazing talent of their early-stage companies,” said Mark Valdez — co-founder, managing partner, and chief investment officer at Royal Eagle Capital Partners — in the release. "The emphasis on growth in Latin America by Softeq was a driving factor for our commitment and will open the door to new opportunities in Mexico and beyond.”

The Q2 2022 cohort is from across the United States with even some international representatives. The companies are using tech to solve problems across industries from human resources and wellness to med-tech and sports-tech and more. Applications are open for the next cohort online.

Here are the 14 companies making up the cohort:

  • Concerto Commerce, based in Southlake, Texas, is an eCommerce platform that combines automated catalog management and payment processing to streamline reseller operations.
  • New York City-based Dailyhuman is a software platform designed to help companies retain employees by fostering safety, trust, and connection in the workplace.
  • Headquartered in Houston, FrakBlock is a blockchain-based predictive tool providing financial products for the adulting process of young teens in Latin America.
  • High Tech Ranch Solutions, from The Woodlands, is a digital ranch management system designed by ranchers to bring monitoring to the palm of your hand.
  • Santa Barbara, California-based Homesavi is a platform that helps first-time homebuyers understand the home-buying process and guides them to their dream home.
  • Louder.ai is an advertising platform that revolutionizes how people can support causes they care about and see the impact of their donations.
  • Mallard Bay, founded out of Louisiana State University, is a marketplace for guided hunting and fishing trips that streamlines booking and administrative processes for consumers and outfitters. The company won Softeq's prize at the Rice Business Plan Competition.
  • RYN is a social platform to help families in the Middle East find and employ household migrant workers providing better working and living conditions.
  • Delaware-based SAmAS Gamify is building a gamified psychometric assessment platform that helps employers evaluate and select the most qualified candidates.
  • Founded in North Carolina, ShopAgain is an AI-powered customer retention platform redefining personalized customer experiences for eCommerce businesses.
  • Houston-based TeeMates Golf is a mobile app that connects golfers worldwide using social media, tee time linking, and offers a merchandise marketplace.
  • ViiT Health, based in Mexico, is a non-invasive technology to help people measure and monitor blood sugar levels more accurately without a finger prick lancet.
  • WellnessWins is a CRM to streamline intake processes for private therapy clinics to reduce waitlists and increase access to mental health care.
  • WorkHint helps retail companies manage on-demand hourly talent to increase flexibility, reduce cost, and generate actionable data-driven insights.
A Houston software company has announced its new venture fund. Photo via Getty Images

Houston tech company launches $40M fund to invest in early-stage startups

money moves

A Houston company that recently launched an innovation studio to support startups has now announced that they are launching a new fund to take startup support to the next level.

Houston-based Softeq Development Corporation, a global full-stack development company, launched The Softeq Venture Fund, a $40 million venture fund to invest in seed and series A startup rounds. According to a news release, more than half the fund will be deployed to power the Softeq Venture Studio, Softeq's recently launched accelerator program.

“For generations, the state of Texas has been home to world-renowned tech companies who have greatly contributed to our regional success. As a local entrepreneur, advisor, and angel investor, it’s been my dream for many years to create a venture fund benefiting startups," says Christopher A. Howard, founder and CEO of Softeq, in the release. "I am proud to increase our support of the state’s early-stage tech community. Our investment fund is designed to attract tech visionaries from both inside and outside the state and grow innovative concepts in Houston."

Jumana Capital, a single-family office also based in Houston and founded in 2018, has made a "sizable investment" in the fund, per the release.

“The Softeq team has successfully engineered, developed, and launched technology solutions for enterprise and early-stage companies for 25 years. In partnership with Softeq, we are thrilled to play a role in the creation of their new fund and to support the entrepreneurs that come to Houston to develop cutting-edge technologies and build businesses,” says Chris Martin, managing director at Jumana Capital, in the release.

While the fund will mostly go into investing in and supporting studio companies, Softeq will also tap into the fund to "invest opportunistically."

In October, the company announced the six startups that make up the studio's inaugural cohort. The purpose of the studio was to identify startups with scalable solutions but that need guidance and support from Softeq and its network.

"Historically, most tech startups had a founder with development skills. However, we're now seeing more and more business people, doctors, and other professionals start companies, and they need a strong engineering partner to develop their products," Howard says in an October news release. "We take it several steps further with the Venture Studio providing technology business consulting, development services, and much-needed cash. We're a vested partner, so we also help secure follow-on funding for continued growth."

Applications are open for the spring 2022 cohort. More information and applications are available online.

Christopher A. Howard is the founder and CEO of Softeq. Photo courtesy of Softeq

A Houston software company has announced the five early-stage startups it will be supporting through its new venture studio. Photo via Getty Images

Houston tech company names 5 startups to its new venture studio

accelerating biz

A Houston-based technology consultancy with a portfolio of Fortune 500 clients has announced the five companies it will be supporting in its new startup studio.

Softeq Development Corporation announced its inaugural cohort for the Softeq Venture Studio. The program, which will be offered quarterly for four to six startups each cohort, is geared at helping its resident startups quickly develop their technology and build their businesses.

"Historically, most tech startups had a founder with development skills. However, we're now seeing more and more business people, doctors, and other professionals start companies, and they need a strong engineering partner to develop their products," says Christopher A. Howard, Softeq founder and CEO, in a news release. "We take it several steps further with the Venture Studio providing technology business consulting, development services, and much-needed cash. We're a vested partner, so we also help secure follow-on funding for continued growth."

Christopher A. Howard is the founder and CEO of Softeq. Photo courtesy of Softeq

The group of startups are from the Bay Area, New York, Boston, and Houston and represents several industries, including sports tech, med-tech, and lifestyle tech. The founders of all five of the early-stage startups will work in Houston from October through December in their provided office space at FUSE in CITYCENTRE near the Softeq corporate headquarters in the Energy Corridor. Participating companies each receive $100,000 in cash and development services in exchange for a small piece of equity in their company, per the release. Serial entrepreneur Billy Grandy will lead the program.

"Most early-stage accelerators focus on the business aspects of a startup," says Grandy. "Adding the enterprise-focused development resources of Softeq helps startups de-risk the effort and puts future investors at ease. Furthermore, Houston's rapidly growing innovation ecosystem and access to an active investment community and tech-forward business leaders make this city a perfect venue for startups."

The companies selected for the fall cohort are:

  • Atlas Coaching is a marketplace to connect female sports celebrities, pros, and coaches with fans looking to improve their game and receive digital training.
  • FitLift improves strength training techniques and reduces injuries through a mobile app and wearable device that tracks precise motion and provides feedback.
  • GetScouted aims to provide a verifiable source of athletes' performance and statistics to coaches and scouts using biometric analysis and analytics.
  • Home Outside is democratizing landscape design by making it simple, affordable, automated, easy to visualize, and integrated through AI and 1-click ordering.
  • Orcana is a medical technology startup utilizing augmented reality and AI to provide 24/7 remote support for operating rooms to reps, surgeons, and surgical teams.

The applications are already open for the winter cohort, which will be held mid-January through March of 2022. Companies can apply until December 11, 2021, at www.softeq.com/venture-studio.

Softeq also announced its Innovation Lab last year. The lab is in partnership with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Integrated Design and Management program and Massachusetts-based Boundless Technology and is directed at helping enterprise companies collaborate on the technologies of tomorrow.

Howard recently discussed with InnovationMap his passion for cultivating technology innovation in Houston on a recent episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. Listen to it below.


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Houston robotics company secures multi-million-dollar government contract

more collaboration

Webster-based Nauticus Robotics Inc., a newly minted public company, continues to make waves with government contracts.

Nauticus says it has been awarded a second multimillion-dollar contract from the U.S. Defense Innovation Unit, part of the U.S. Defense Department, for development of a self-piloted amphibious robot system powered by the company’s ToolKITT command-and-control software.

In February, Nauticus said it had been given a ToolKITT contract by the Defense Innovation Unit. Under that contract, ToolKITT is being used aboard a remotely controlled undersea vehicle operated by the Navy.

Similar contracts with the Defense Innovation Unit could be on the horizon, Nauticus says.

Nauticus develops oceangoing robots under the brand names Aquanaut and Hydronaut, along with the ToolKITT autonomy software and related services. It’s forecasting 2023 revenue of $90 million.

Driven by machine learning, ToolKITT helps identify, categorize, and perform activities that can “remove, detect, identify, inspect, and neutralize hazards underwater,” according to a Nauticus news release.

ToolKITT is used for various self-piloted robotics products, including Nauticus’ Aquanaut.

“We are humbled and honored to be doing our part to advance the usage of robotics and autonomous systems to remove servicemembers from harm’s way,” says Ed Tovar, director of business development for defense systems at Nauticus.

Nauticus’ stock began trading September 13 on the Nasdaq market. The milestone came four days after Nauticus merged with publicly traded CleanTech Acquisition Corp., a “blank check” shell company formed to acquire or merge with a business. At one point, the merger was valued at $560 million.

The new combo, operating under the Nauticus name, is led by Nauticus founder and CEO Nicolaus Radford.

“The closing of this business combination represents a pivotal milestone in our company’s history as we take public our pursuit of transforming the ocean robotics industry with autonomous systems,” Radford says in a news release. “Not only is the ocean a tremendous economic engine, but it is also the epicenter for building a sustainable future.”

Houstonian designs new experiences to encourage innovation in students

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 154

As director of social innovation at Teach For America Houston, it's Sarah Essama's job to come up with new ways for the organization to support both students and teachers. But, as she explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast this week, Essama realized a huge lesson modern students needed was to learn this innovation process themselves.

Part of being an educator is to prepare students for tomorrow, Essama explains, but with rapid technology development and adaption, no one knows what the future will hold for the job market or the world in general. The best way to prepare the future generation of the workforce is to teach them how to innovate, think differently, and adapt to new ways of doing things.

"That's what people are looking for right now — people who can provide out-of-the-box solutions to problems," Essama says on the show.

This line of thinking turned into Essama founding The Dream Lab, powered by Teach for America Houston.

"The Dream Lab is a set of immersive design spaces where young people leverage their imagination and creativity to innovate and solve problems within their community," she explains.

Last month, the new concept rolled out to high school students in partnership with DivInc Houston, a nonprofit focused on social and economic equity in entrepreneurship, and 21 ninth graders spent the day at the Ion for a mini-innovation accelerator and design showcase.

Strategically, Essama tapped into the Houston innovation ecosystem with the intent of showcasing the community.

"Innovation to me is being able to create something that has never been seen or done before — and that has a very important purpose," she says. "Exposing ourselves to innovation and people who think this way — and learning from them —is key to be able to be competitive tomorrow."

Essama says this program is still in the development phase. She's been testing out the concept with fourth graders and now ninth graders. She hopes the full program will be up and running by next fall.

She shares more details about the grant and the future of The Dream Lab on the podcast. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.

Houston-based virtual reality startup raises $3.2M in first outside capital round

fresh funding

HTX Labs, a Houston-based company that designs extended reality training for military and business purposes, announced last week that it has raised its first outside capital.

The company has received a $3.2 million investment from Cypress Growth Capital. Founded in 2017, HTX Labs — developer of the EMPACT Immersive Learning Platform — has been granted funding from the Department of Defense as well as grown its client base of commercial Enterprises. The platform uses virtual and extended reality that "enables organizations to rapidly create, deploy, measure, and sustain cost-effective, secure, and centralized immersive training programs, all within engaging, fully interactive virtual environments," per a news release.

“We have been looking to secure outside capital to accelerate the growth of our EMPACT platform and customer base but we hadn’t found the right partner who provided an investment vehicle that matched our needs,“ says HTX Labs CEO Scott Schneider in the release. “We found everything we were looking for in Cypress Growth Capital. They have a non-dilutive funding model that aligns with our capital expectations and have the level of experience that really makes this smart money.

"Cypress has a decade-long track record of success in helping emerging software and services companies achieve scale," he continues. "It is clear that the team’s collective entrepreneurial and operating experience will be of tremendous benefit to us as we focus on expanding our customer base in a very intentional way.”

The fresh funding will go toward growing and scaling the company's operations — both within the current Department of Defense and expansion opportunities into key commercial markets, like heavy industry, manufacturing, and higher education. Additionally, the funding will support increased customer adoption.

“Scott and his team have built an exceptional business that is poised for dramatic growth,” says Cypress Partner Pat McCaffrey in the release. “HTX Labs’ modern, immersive training solution provides clients with a force multiplier for modernizing training and an unmatched ROI.”